Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss: Regular people ‘need help now’

Image via Florida House of Representatives

By Giselle Balido

January 17, 2024

A strong advocate for the issues that are affecting Floridians across the state, Chambliss says the phrase “quality of life” is not an abstraction, but a reality that must be fought for. 

A believer in the need to take the Democratic party back to its roots—the people—State Rep. Kevin Chambliss, a member of the Florida House of Representatives from the 117th district since 2020, spoke with Floricua about the issues most affecting working families today; what Democrats need to do to ensure a better quality of life for all Floridians, the real danger of voter apathy, and what can be accomplished by exercising the right to vote.

What, in your view, are the top issues impacting Floridians right now?

The main message that we’re getting from Floridians is that their cost of living is too high. What we’re seeing is renters who have been living in a place for a particular amount of time being priced out of those communities because the rent prices keep going up and up and up. We’ve seen middle class working families being priced out of their home; they don’t have a steady place to live, and they and their children are going from couch to couch and having to live in shelters for the first time in their life, while having a job. People have reached out to my office and said, ‘We need immediate help, not just help for the future.’ And many of them are thinking about relocating to other locations.

Then we don’t know what’s going to happen with our homeowner’s insurance. We’ve had some insurance companies leave the state just recently, and although there have been others that are starting to come, that uncertainty is really what’s affecting Floridians.

What do you think contributed to create this growing economic crisis?

We haven’t had a balance of authority. Balance helps to create good public policy. And when you have one party that’s been in power for so long, you start seeing policy going too far away from the center, and the center is where the majority of Floridians really want to be. I’ll give you an example. There’s a philosophy that Republicans have, that if we stimulate the market, then the savings will come, and consumers will eventually feel the results.

What does that mean? Tax incentives for big business? Well, you’ve seen [what happened] when they’ve had special sessions on homeowners’ insurance, because they were supporting the industry, not so much the individual homeowner, and what ends up happening is the big business basically says, ‘Well, we will keep taking the breaks, we will keep taking the tax incentives.’ But it doesn’t make sense, because they are not being forced to trickle that down to the consumer. I think sometimes the majority party forgets that these are regular people that need help now. 

RELATED: ‘Why Did It Become So Expensive?’: Florida’s High Costs Are Pushing Residents to the Brink

Critics of Gov. DeSantis’ culture wars claim they have helped create a distraction from the real issues you have talked about. What do you say to that?

Cultural wars are not good public policy for anyone. This is a strategy that kind of pokes at individuals’ emotions. And I’m assuming they think that that equals voter turnout on their behalf. But when you start to focus more about voter turnout, when you start to focus more about political sound bites than the actual day to day struggles that Floridians have, that’s what leads us to where we are now. Hopefully that pendulum will swing back in the other direction sometime soon.

How is that accomplished?

Instead of trying to go back and forth in a war of soundbites with Republicans, if we focus more on what we agreed on, I promise you, we get a lot more done. We were having a meeting with the board of county commissioners from Miami Dade County and the chairman of the board, who was also the former mayor of the city of Miami Gardens, said ‘my agenda is an economic agenda. That’s my agenda because that’s what my people need.’

We have to talk about economic development. We have to talk about supporting small businesses, about making sure that young people see a future. These are what they call the tabletop issues of the house. When people are sitting around the table and having a conversation, they’re talking about getting a job, about making sure that they’re going to have enough, so that everybody’s going to be able to eat and everybody’s going to be able to go to a good school and live in a safe community.

These are all issues that are tied to economic development. And I think that we have to get back to being a party of the people and let the people be the voice of the party compared to the party being the voice of the people. We need to amplify community voices.

As of Oct. 2023, Republican registrations statewide made up 37.4% of the state’s 13.9 million voters, while Democratic registration stood at 33.2% and no party affiliation/independents at 27.2%. Republicans went out to vote en masse. Democrats didn’t. Is this the result of voter apathy, and if so, what generated it?

I think that sometimes we feel like we’re playing catch up to the Republicans instead of actually building our own base and solidifying it. Voters don’t see themselves; they don’t see their voice being heard. They see us fighting Republicans, but they don’t see us fighting for them. You can’t just say how bad the government is all the time. And the truth is you have to be able to allow a community to send their own representatives up. I promise you when a community sees their person that came from their community up there running for office, they get behind that person. I think sometimes we try to dictate who that person is from the outside and we get poor responses because of that.

I think that that’s something that we have to really reflect on. How, how are we creating our leaders? How are our leaders coming to the top? Is it because it’s the person who has the most inside connections, that can raise the most money, or is it a person that the people chose to be their leader? You can raise all the money in the world. People still won’t vote for you. But when a community sees a person that is homegrown from their community, they get behind that person.

RELATED: Sen. Jason Pizzo on how young Floridians can get involved in politics

 

Do you think Democrats need to address and speak to people directly to their self-interest? In other words, I don’t see them talking enough about high rental prices or about reproductive choices, when we know that even Republicans are against DeSantis’ six-week abortion ban. Shouldn’t Democrats start addressing these issues directly?

I think we have to figure out how to address it, because I think that they’ve done a good job of poking at us and having us respond in such an extreme way that they kind of catch us, because we end up turning off individuals while we rile up a certain group. We can’t just talk about things and how they affect one group. We have to talk about how they affect all groups. I’ll give you an example with abortion. We can’t just say abortion affects women. We have to talk about how abortion affects the whole family. We have to talk about how abortion affects marriages. We have to talk about how abortion affects black mothers. We have to talk about how abortion affects low-income communities. We have to talk across the board on these issues to where people start seeing themselves in the messaging.

The same with the economy. Everyone has to pay their rent, everyone has to pay their mortgage, everyone has to pay property insurance as a homeowner. Everybody has to make sure that they have enough money to, you know, endure an emergency. Everybody has to worry about whenever we’re going to have a major hurricane. There are issues that everybody has to address in their pocketbook. It’s highly important that we have that kind of message. And I don’t think that we currently have it.

You talked about reaching out to our diverse communities. What does that look like?

We got to talk to our communities more. We have to get feedback from our communities year-round, so that we’re amplifying what they’re saying, and not necessarily, you know, amplifying what some survey told us that half the folks [said]. We’ll say, ‘well, this survey said…’ No, no, no.’ Did you go to the people in the community and talk to them yourselves? Those are the issues that matter. And again, it’s the economic issues that are unilateral.

What would you say to those unmotivated Democrats, to inspire them to go out and vote?

Well, if we don’t vote, we’ll continue to see our communities torn apart. And we’ll continue to have prices go up. Big business will continue to thrive, and the consumer will continue to suffer. If we don’t vote, then the place that you live now, you won’t be able to afford to live in that same place in five years. If we don’t vote, then the education that your children currently have will not be the quality of education that they have in five years. If we don’t vote, our way of life will be so unsustainable that we will have to leave the state of Florida. If we want to make sure that the state of Florida continues to be our state, our home, the beautiful state that it is, we have to go vote. If not, then this will not be the same state that we all know and love.

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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